Tao of Gung Fu
refined skill developed through hard work over a long period of time
Gung fu is first and foremost, movement; movement specifically as it pertains to fighting methods developed predominantly in China. However, it is not only about movement and not only about fighting.
The term gung fu literally means refined skill developed by means of hard work over an extended period of time. It references skills built up in any discipline and the impact of well-executed intent. A skilled ballet dancer displays gung fu. So does a chef who has honed skills in food preparation and cooking. As does the therapist deciphering body language and verbal cues. Gung fu indicates the highest manifestation of skill.
So what does this have to do with fighting? There are hundreds of Chinese martial arts systems and their collective have been called many things: chuan fa (fist methods) and wushu (military methods) being two. These systems were predominantly used for ancient warfare, utilizing weaponry with the fist-fighting methods used as a means to train towards weapon usage. In more recent history, with these martial systems disseminating to the common people, these methods became more oriented to fist-fighting. That is to say, gung fu, over time, became more about empty hand implementation than that of battlefield warfare. And in times of peace, it became both a civilian art of defense as well as a cultural practice for health and heritage.
Gung fu, like culture, is in a constant state of shifting and rooting.
A Cultural Study Through Movement
We may learn something of gung fu from what Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in regards to history and civilization: "A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries... they open up for man his inner distance."
Gung fu, like a civilization, is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated and transmitted over the centuries by virtue of oral and movement-based traditions. As the video below shows, gung fu is a mode of relating and relationships that transcends time.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
It matters because in an interactive world, whether digitally or through our in-real-life time and space, movement is essential and so is a sense of rootedness. This rootedness can take many forms, through our identity as well as tangibly through how we plant our feet onto the ground and how we engage with the space around us. For me, it matters for all of these reasons and more. As Carl Jung said, “Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?”
Read more about gung fu as heritage.